KonMari and Me: A Toastmasters Tale

I scoped out my Toastmasters club before I even left European soil. I scoped out lots of things – I was unemployed and looking for new opportunity.

Anyway, as much as I wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail after the army, I wanted to join a Toastmasters club. I saw them both as means to purge said army from my system – one to let everything go, the other to start integrating into life anew. Everyone needs a tribe, after all, and I’d left the two tribes that had been mine for a lifetime: my church and the military. I’d also come out gay and married a man, which threw a curveball in that ‘integration’ aspect. Not gonna lie, it’s been a winding road. Whose life isn’t? 

But this club, my club, is Leadership Lambda, the first gay-aligned Toastmasters club in the world. The ‘first’ bit doesn’t matter so much any more, but understanding that it was a thing before Ellen was Ellen is pretty significant. More importantly, it was (and is) full of vibrant, fun-loving, and committed souls, and it became my home and my tribe right away, day one forward. I’ve been to all but maybe two meetings since then, and I’ve been in a leadership role for… most of my Toastmaster time. I love it.

Having grown up a theater kid and a bit of a ham, I love the opportunity to stand up in front of a crowd and deliver my thoughts – I’d like to think that I have the best thoughts, Mr. President. Anyway, it’s a way to keep my mind sharp, to practice my love of language, and to influence others. Toastmasters also offers ample opportunity to listen, to observe, and to be influenced by others. I journal now because of a Toastmaster. I have a mantra rather than a list of resolutions because of a Toastmaster. I trade cookies for biscotti because of a Toastmasters. It’s a delicious arrangement, both sweet and savory!

Increasingly, the aspect I love most about public speaking is the ability to powerfully and personably relate a story – funny, sad, silly, whatever. Storytelling is an art worth pursuing, I think, as it will still work when our technology fails us. It’ll quell the restlessness. That, and it’s just satisfying. 

I wrote and delivered a speech on Monday. I’d been chewing on the content for a while and opted to fill a hole in the evening’s programming. This week, it is the meat of this here blog. Without further ado, KonMari and Me.

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Have you ever felt like you just have too much stuff? If not, when’s the last time you moved?

For my husband’s parents, that last time was two years ago, from icy Indiana to subtropical southern Florida – Fort Myers. They spared nothing in their move, dragging every last thing from their home of thirty years across the country. Loc and I visited that Indiana house last summer – it was desolate. We did not, however, visit For Myers – it’s far too expensive for a weekend flight, and long breaks are for National Parks! But we have our own move pending, and Loc wants his comic books. So we booked a trip – Christmas to New Years, a proper family reunion.

Now, Loc is quite a collector. When I met him, he had a trinket from every country in Europe in a cabinet, and a magnet from every country in Europe on the fridge. We were apart for our first Christmas together, but we were together for our last in Germany, and we went all out: we now have enough ornaments to adorn two trees – and, until recently, two trees to put them on. By contrast, the only piece of furniture I owned before I met him was a bed. But I digress: the comic books.

I figured we’d carry an empty suitcase to Florida to bring Loc’s comic books home – a large suitcase even. Maybe, maybe we’d have to mail a box or two, media mail ground. We had flown into Orlando, met Loc’s elderly childhood neighbors, and driven three hours to Fort Myers, where we joined his parents and sister. We slept on the pull-out couch in the living room. His sister occupied the sewing room, off of which laid our long-pondered objective. We spent three days touring as a family; on the fourth, the elders rested, and Tam flew home: Objective Alpha was ours. We moved in.

I was staggered by what I saw: a slope of stuff extending the full length of a walk-in closet, from front floor to back wall. And against that back wall, sat Loc’s boxes … Loc’s very visible boxes. My estimation was, I learned… incredibly inadequate. We’d need not just a suitcase and a few mailers, but a small SUV to haul all of those comics, and we’d have to move a small mountain just to reach them! Having braced ourselves, we began. It took three days.

We went full Marie Kondo on Loc’s mom. Every single item in that closet became a pile on the floor. We found reams and reams of industrial fabric; boxes of ‘90s fashion, tags still attached; and stuffed animals enough to stock a petting zoo! Out it all went, into semi-organized piles in her sewing room. Loc held every item up to his mother, and together, they sorted everything into two piles: keep and toss. We filled two RAV4s with her belongings; we filled a third with his own. Then we reached the comic books, 32 archival-quality boxes in all. We emptied the closet, tossed every second thing, brought in new shelving, and put it all back together, neatly, comic books perched by the door. It was a proper Queer Eye affair.

Now, I’m prone to collecting crap too. My mantra this year is ‘simplify.’ It’s a quest. So when Loc and I acquired our sixth and seventh strainers last weekend, it flipped a switch. At home, I set about sorting bowls and strainers for donation – gone, gone, gone. It was getting late, though, so I decided to turn in. In bed that night, I read a Christian Science article that made me laugh: Boomer parents: One Day This Will Be Yours. Grown Children: Noooo! It cited The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo’s 2014 book that has swept the globe. I kept reading and learned about her new Netflix series, Tidying Up. Thinking of Loc, I giggled, leaned over to him, and whispered ‘Marie Kondo!’ He quickly responded ‘no! Nononononononono!’ I poked, he reacted; it turns out that he already knew about this Marie Kondo. And with that, I had found my husband’s scariest phrase: let’s get rid of some stuff! It was hilarious – I could hardly sleep for the joy of the prospect.

But with time, I wore him down. We have now watched two episodes of Tidying Up. He’s even liked them! And, her message nests neatly with my mantra, simplify: work through groups: clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous, and sentimental items; finish discarding first; tidy by category, not location, work sequentially, and ask if your things spark joy. So far, I’ve managed to discard… the colanders that I brought into our relationship; the count is now five. I admire the KonMari method; he does not.

But when we move this summer, we’ll court Marie Kondo anew. The American Enterprise Institute reports that American homes have grown by over 1,000 square feet since 1973 – big Americans need big spaces! I don’t imagine that Korean homes have kept pace, though. And, as it seems that that’s where we’ll be going, it’s time to lovingly consider each item, ask if it sparks joy, thank it for its service, and , if need be, to let it go.

I’ll spare you the Frozen song.

 

James

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